Saudi Arabia restructures military hierarchy with Yemeni war in mind

The war has become more complex with the Houthi rebels reportedly upgrading their military capabilities courtesy of Iran.
Sunday 04/03/2018
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz (L) receives a newly appointed military chief in Riyadh, on February 27.  (SPA)
Honing their edge. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz (L) receives a newly appointed military chief in Riyadh, on February 27. (SPA)

LONDON - In apparent reaction to the stagnating 3-year war in Yemen, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud replaced several Saudi armed forces commanders, including the military’s chief of staff.

The wide-ranging reshuffle included the promotion of a younger generation of military officials, including new heads of the kingdom’s land and air forces. The Saudi government also announced it would overhaul its Defence Ministry.

General Abdul Rahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan was replaced as chief of staff by General Fayyadh bin Hamid al-Rwaili, a former commander in the Royal Saudi Air Force, and Khaled bin Hussain al-Biyari was appointed assistant defence minister under Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, who serves as defence minister.

The shake-up at the Defence Ministry was reportedly meant to create a more efficient fighting force while “ridding the military of top-level leaders resistant to change,” RAND Corporation Policy Analyst Becca Wasser told the Wall Street Journal.

An official Saudi statement said King Salman had approved a document addressing the modernisation of the Defence Ministry, “including the vision and strategy of the ministry’s modernisation programme, the operational pattern targeting its modernisation, the organisational structure, governance and human resources requirements.”

The change among Saudi military leaders comes when the country is entangled in the war in Yemen, where it is leading a military coalition fighting in support of the internationally recognised government against Iran-allied Houthi rebels.

The war has become more complex with the Houthi rebels reportedly upgrading their military capabilities courtesy of Iran, despite an arms embargo demanded by the UN Security Council. Evidence gathered after the firing of several ballistic missiles towards Riyadh indicated Iranian involvement in supplying the Houthis with the missiles.

A resolution introduced by the United Kingdom calling for renewed sanctions on Yemen because of Iran’s interference was vetoed by Russia; however, the council unanimously agreed to extend the Yemeni arms embargo.

Following the failure of the draft resolution, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley released a statement blasting Russia for defending the “terrorist-sponsoring regime in Iran.”

“In spite of a mountain of credible, independent evidence showing Iran violated the Yemen arms embargo, resulting in a series of attacks on civilian targets, Russia prevented accountability and endangered the entire region,” Haley said.

Also affecting the stalemate in Yemen was infighting between the internationally recognised government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which are both fighting the Houthi militia.

Fighting broke out between the two allies on January 28 after a deadline set by the STC for Hadi to dissolve the government over allegations of corruption and incompetence passed. This led to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates scrambling to send envoys for talks that resulted in a truce.

Another side effect of the war in Yemen has been fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which are trying to cement their presence in the war-torn country. The United Arab Emirates recently began an operation in southern Yemen targeting AQAP.

The UAE state news agency reported that operation included Yemeni Shabwa Elite Forces, supported by the UAE, in Shabwa province. AQAP suffered “significant losses” in Wadi Al-Masini in Hadramawt province.

The operation reportedly destroyed al-Qaeda strongholds in Shabwa and several al-Qaeda fighters surrendered. Most of the area was secured by the Shabwa Elite Forces.

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